Prohibited Grounds for Disciplinary Action in France

Disciplinary action is one of the largest areas of confusion for British companies employing people in France.

Although the behaviour that constitutes a workplace offence is much the same in France as it is in the UK, disciplinary rules and procedures vary between the two countries.

For example, in France a verbal warning is not considered a formal sanction.  Employees can be dismissed immediately and without warning if the offence is sufficiently serious, while certain French sanctions (such as the mise à pied disciplinaire) have no UK equivalent at all.

In France, there are also certain grounds under which disciplinary action cannot be taken.

These include:

  • Discriminatory grounds
  • Exercising a fundamental freedom (such as freedom of expression or association)
  • Exercising the right to strike in accordance with the law
  • Exercising the right of withdrawal in the event of serious and imminent danger (equivalent to Section 44 of the UK Employment Rights Act 1996)
  • Testimony of moral or sexual harassment
  • Testimony of facts that constitute an offence or crime
  • Whistleblowing

It is also well worth noting that French law prohibits the collection of any data that relates to race, ethnicity, political opinions, religion, trade union associations, health, or sex life.  As such, many standard UK employment data forms could not be issued in France.

Exercising the right of withdrawal: further explanation

This right refers to instances where a workplace situation presents immediate danger that would result in a serious or fatal illness, or an accident.  The employee may leave their workstation, or refuse to return to it, without having obtained the employer’s prior agreement.

The importance of a règlement intérieur

In France, it is very important that workplace disciplinary action is proportionate to the related misconduct. 

For this reason, employers are advised to implement a règlement intérieur as soon as possible. This is a set of internal regulations that govern the workplace (similar to a staff handbook in the UK), with particular focus on health, safety, and discipline.

Although there is no legal requirement for a règlement intérieur until the 50th employee is hired, its absence up to that point will rob the company of any flexibility regarding disciplinary action.  Without a règlement intérieur, dismissal is the only disciplinary sanction provided for by the French Labour Code. 

Additional points to consider

French employers must not sanction the same employee twice for the same fault.  This is important to remember, since if a manager were to email an employee about an incident of misconduct, it could be seen as a warning.  As such, if a more serious sanction is required later on regarding the same facts, it could not be executed.

Furthermore, while the règlement intérieur is a useful document for French employers, it must clearly state which disciplinary sanctions are applicable in the company, as only these will apply.  Due care must therefore be taken when drafting the regulations.

Finally, the grounds for the disciplinary hearing are not detailed in the invitation letter and a termination payment is due in almost all cases of dismissal, except serious and gross misconduct.

Further advice regarding disciplinary sanctions in France

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